NPR’s Ashley Westerman recently did a piece called “It’s (Sexy) Asian Men! Hallelujah,” as part of NPR’s series Code Switch: Race and Identity Remixed. I’m genetically half Asian, and have enough of the name and physical appearance to be constantly mistaken for a foreigner in my own country. The article highlighted the omnipresent but commonly overlooked fact that the majority in our country, including even other people with Asian ancestry, unthinkingly buy into Hollywood’s cartoon version of ethnic Asians as goofy, geeky, weak, evil, or foreign. TL asked me whether I had observed this subconscious stereotyping and whether it might have contributed to my self-esteem problems and desire to “prove something” about my masculinity. It did! Of course it did. I’ve always known that. I’m so grateful to NPR for finally noticing the issue.
That said, it clearly was not my only problem. Two others stand out in my mind. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a very restrictive community, dominated by a single denomination, and a family rebelling against that community politically while buying into its values hook, line, and sinker. That started me down a path of internal conflict, then duality, then eventually a double-life, and literal lack of integrity. One part of me wanted to be open-minded and modern, while the other part of me was conservative, insecure, and threatened by modern women and modern gender relations. The latter part of me snuck around, asserting itself covertly and cowardly.
Second, I could have and should have chosen, at any point, to choose to value integrity, to learn the true definition of love, to be courageous and selfless, and to show my wife compassion. Instead, I chose to keep wallowing in self-pity.
In sum, I do think that my somewhat unusual ethnic and religious minority upbringing fueled the fire of low self-esteem and self-pity in me. But, I can’t overlook the fact that my conscious decisions lit the fire and failed to put it out until it was nearly too late.